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Flaxseed vs. Diabetes

A tablespoon of daily ground flax seeds for a month appears to improve fasting blood sugars, triglycerides, cholesterol, and hemoglobin A1c levels in diabetics.

March 29, 2013 |
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Acknowledgements

Images thanks to sean dreilingerPhú Thịnh Co and grafixtek

Transcript

Drug companies are hoping to capitalize on the fact that the consumption of certain plants appears to lower the risk of diabetes by isolating the active components for use and sale as pharmacological agents. Though not as profitable, why not just eat the plants? One plant in particular that's now been tested is flax. We've known for 20 years that having ground flax in your stomach can blunt the blood sugar spike from a meal, but it's never been tested in diabetics until now. An open-label study on the effect of flax seed powder supplementation in the management of diabetes. A tablespoon of ground flax seeds every day for a month, and, compared to the control group a significant drop in fasting blood sugars, triglycerides, and cholesterol, as well as the most important thing, a drop in A1C level and this was just after a month, though if one's sugars are already well-controlled there may be no additional benefit. No weight gain with an added quarter cup of ground flax a day for 3 months—in fact the flax group ended up with a slimmer waist than the flaxseed oil or control group. Or even up to nearly a half cup a day, though this was only for a month. How does flax help control blood sugars? It may improve insulin sensitivity in glucose intolerant people, after 12 weeks of flax there was a small but significant drop in insulin resistance, perhaps related to the drop in oxidant stress given the antioxidant qualities of flax. Now this was a non-blinded, non-randomized small study, and so if it was some drug they were testing, I'd never prescribe it based on this one study, but this isn't a drug. It's just flaxseeds. There're just good side-effects, so even if this study was a fluke or fraud, flaxseeds have other benefits. In the worse case scenario I'd still end up benefiting my patients not quite ready or able to reverse their diabetes completely with a plant-based diet.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Jonathan Hodgson.

To help out on the site please email volunteer@nutritionfacts.org

Dr. Michael Greger

Doctor's Note

This video reminds me of the Prunes vs. Metamucil for Constipation one, or any of those talking about various foods that may control blood sugar (Amla Versus Diabetes), weight (Fat Burning Via Flavonoids), cholesterol (Dried Apples Versus Cholesterol), or sexual dysfunction (Watermelon as Treatment for Erectile Dysfunction). Yes, these foods may help, but why not get at the root of the problem and try to reverse the condition altogether with a healthier diet overall? That's why I called my 2012 wrap-up Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death

The two books I feature are the original classic from 2003, Defeating Diabetes co-authored by my favorite dietician, Brenda Davis, and then in 2007 and 2012, from two of my medical mentors, Dr. Neal Barnard's Program To Reverse Diabetes Now and Dr. Joel Fuhrman's The End of Diabetes. In fact Fuhrman's book is so new it wasn't even out when I recorded this video for my volume 12 DVD!

This is my third flax video of the year. See what it can do against prostate cancer in my last two Flaxseed vs. Prostate Cancer and Was It the Flaxseed, Fat Restriction, or Both?. Next, we move on to Flaxseeds For Sensitive Skin.

For more context, please refer to the following associated blog posts: Flaxseeds for DiabetesTreating Sensitive Skin From the Inside Out, and Flax and Breast Cancer Survival 

If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

  • steve

    Are they using fresh ground, whole.or pre ground flax seed?

    • Veganrunner

      Look under sources cited. They were ground.

    • Thea

      I think that is a good question. I sometimes wonder how much nutrition would be lost if the pre-ground were bought rather than grinding it myself. Grinding myself is not a huge deal, but I am always looking to save time in the kitchen.

      • Joe

        Isn’t it more about the omega 3s going rancid? As far as I understand they are fragile and susceptible to oxidation – some people suggest eating ground flax within 15 – 30 minutes to avoid the damaged fats. Maybe this is a bit extreme – perhaps a good compromise would be to grind a whole load, and then put them in the freezer for later use?

        • Thea

          Joe: I agree that lots of people are concerned about the fats going rancid. And I agree that rancidity (who knew that was a word?) can be a problem. However, one of Dr. Greger’s videos talks about keeping flaxseed air-tight and then not worring about it. I grind up my flaxseed and keep it in an airtight container in the fridge. Seems to work fine for me for a good week. I just don’t get the sense that we have to eat ground flaxseed within 15-30 minutes. But I’m not an expert so I’m just expressing my opinion.

          As for nutrition loss: It is my understanding that the more processed a seed/grain is, the more nutrition that quickly gets lost (outside of the issue of the fat going rancid). I got this idea from watching one of Brenda Davis’s talks and see a slide where she ranked grains nutrition levels. Whole Grain Heirarchy: (from most nutritious to least) intact whole grains (wheat berries, oat groats, quinoa, etc), broken whole grains, whole grains (rolled oats, etc), shredded whole grains (shredded wheat), ground whole grains (whole wheat flour products), flaked whole grains, puffed whole grains.

          I don’t think that list is solely concerned with what happens to the omega 3s. Well, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

    • Robin D. Everson

      Steve, I purchase whole flax seeds by the pound at a local store. I grind up about 2 tablespoons in a coffee/spice grinder. The flax seeds are inexpensive as well as the grinder. I add the ground flax seeds to my blender along with rice milk, a banana and some frozen mixed berries for a mid-morning or mid-afternoon smoothie. The ground flax seeds act as a thickener (which is why I am able to use rice milk which is traditionally very thin and watery).

  • thelmalina

    Does it matter if they’re ground or not? Would whole flax seeds be as beneficial?

    • Thea

      Whole flax seed is known to be too small and hard and thus to pass through the digestive system without being absorbed. Your best bet is to follow Nan S’s advice: buy them whole (bulk bins are great!) and grind small amounts at a time to add to your food.

      I fill a re-purposed, air-tight peanut butter jar with my flax seed that I have personally ground in a little coffie grinder. The jar is stored in the fridge. I go through a jar very quickly as I consume Dr. Greger’s recommended (in a previous video a long time ago) 2 Tbls (or so) each morning. Also, I give a bunch to my dog each day, mixing with with water. He loves to lick it up.

      The trick to making flax part of your regular diet is to find something that you eat every day that goes with flax. Since I’m not a smoothy fan, putting it in oatmeal worked for me. Because of the way I doctor up my oatmeal, I don’t taste the flax and because the flax gets good an soaked before I eat, gritty texture is not a problem for me either.

      Good luck!

      • thelmalina

        Thanks, Thea! That makes sense. A few months ago I bought a Nutribullet and have been enjoying flax seeds in my green drinks. But I will grind them up and see if I can get them into powder. And, I have a dog! I’ll try them on her as well. Thanks for answering.

      • http://www.facebook.com/shay.jensen.9 Shay Jensen

        >>Whole flax seed is known to be too small and hard and thus to pass through the digestive system without being absorbed.<<

        That may be true, at least for a part of the flax seed. However, soaking flax seeds in water for 10 or 15' creates a viscous liquid much like egg whites — so something is being produced that needs no grinding.

        • Thea

          Shay: Interesting thought.

          I believe that Dr. Greger has a video which mentions the importance of grinding flax seed. And another poster, on this thread or a recent one, also quoted a Canadian medical or government authority on flax seeds needing to be ground. So, I think there is *something* to the thought that it needs to be ground. I just don’t know how much of an issue it is. For example, what if you soaked the whole seeds for hours rather than minutes? Would that make a difference?

          I know what you mean about “flax eggs”. I have used several flax eggs over time and most recently in a recipe this last weekend. It worked great and the popovers came out delicious! But one interesting thing is that when I make a flax egg, I mix 3 tablespoons of water with 1 tablespoon of *ground* flax seed. I’ve never tried it with a whole flax seed.

  • Nan S

    You can get ground flax seeds by buying them whole, which saves you money and keeps them fresh, and then grinding them yourself- fresh- either in a blender, say as part of your smoothie, or in a coffee grinder. Mixing a tablespoon of them, ground, with a quarter-cup of water makes a good binding agent and a substitute for an egg in baking recipes too.

  • Lee Brooks

    Though not tested or part of this report, I’d be curious whether the Doctor thinks Chia seeds might have a comparable effect or value. Thoughts?

    • http://www.facebook.com/darryl.roy.752 Darryl Roy

      Compared to flax, chia has similar levels of alpha-linolenic acid, but neglible lignan content. The lignans, functioning as either water-soluable antioxidants or phytoestrogens, may be responsible for the effects here.

      Chia also has high antioxidant activity, in the form of fat-soluable phenols, which accounts for the greater stability of chia oil. In a sense, the two seeds may be complementary as the water soluable vitamin C and fat-soluable vitamin E.

  • Plantstrongdoc

    Some health authorities warn against to high intake af flaxseeds because of the high content of Cadmium. There seems to conflicting informations about the problem. Opinions anyone? On the other hand – everybody in this forum knows that SAD + flaxseeds does not solve the problem. The solution to obesity induced type 2 DM is a lot of drugs………………NOT!!!!
    A low fat plant strong diet improves or solves the problem.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=580124234 Elizabeth Nedic Hawkes
    • http://www.facebook.com/darryl.roy.752 Darryl Roy

      A better source on the investigation using an anti-CD47 antibody in immunodeficient mice: http://www.pnas.org/content/109/17/6662

      Not the first, either, as anti-CD47 antibodies have been used since CD47 was characterized: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7998989

      Alas, as CD47 is also displayed on normal cells, it may be a long road before a CD47 targeted cancer drug that doesn’t cause general autoimmune mayhem is developed.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=743412894 Louisa Dell’Amico

    Thank you, Dr. Greger. Question: Why would you not recommend as much as a half cup of flaxseed per day. Thank you. Louisa

  • Maya Sellon

    Any thoughts on whether or not this might work for my diabetic cat, who appears to be insulin resistent? And if it might work, could you please give a suggestion for a dosage for a 4kg cat? Thank you!

    • Kdahlin

      Hi Maya,

      I don’t know if it would work for your cat’s diabetes but there is a product called Flaxy Cat that has flax seeds in it so apparently it’s not harmful to them. I’ve never used Flaxy Cat myself but I saw it advertised. It says it’s for coat and skin as well as digestion, joints and heart health. I would ask your vet though.

  • Jeannie

    Do toasted flaxseeds have the same benefits as raw or does the toasting ruin them?

    • R Ian Flett

      The polyunsaturated fatty acids in flaxseed are adversely affected by heat, light and oxygen, which is why it’s contained in a strong, protective shell, so you lose major benefits by toasting. Moreover, once ground, keep the flaxseed in the freezer.

  • Michael Angel

    Is it true that unbroken flaxseeds may not break open at all as they pass through our digestive system and not yield any benefits?

    • val

      yes, MIchael Angel, the seeds need to be ground up…I grind enough for a week’s worth every Sunday and store in fridge…I store the whole seeds in fridge too. I chuck 2 TBSP. into my oats, my dark berry & kale blender concoction, onto my dark leafy green salads, you name it.

  • Jeanette

    Do Chia seeds need to be ground to get maximum benefit like the flax seeds?

    • Toxins

      All seeds must be masticated to break the cell wall and reach the nutrients within, so yes, ground chia would be best for this purpose

      • Jeanette Alley

        Thank you for yor reply. I appreciate the info since I am new to the site and this lifestyle.

  • Astro Fish

    I discovered this by accicident. I have been Type II for just over a year and take my fasting blood sugar every morning and also every evening 2 hours after dinner. On average, my morning readings average 133 and evening average 125. It’s been this way for six months. I do not take any medication for my diabetes. This week I noticed a big drop where my mornings for last 3 days 109, 106, 102 and evenings 101, 92, 101. The only thing i’ve changed in my diet is having a slice of home baked bread with every meal. The bread is made with 1/2 cup of ground flax seed to the dough. I started baking bread as a hobby and was unaware of the benefits to improving my health. I started adding flax meal as an experiment. Flax does not affect the taste at all and added to bread dough is undetectable when combined with whole wheat flour.
    This is the recipe I use. 1 package yeast, 1 cup warm water, 1/3 cup olive oil, 1/3 cup brown sugar, 1 tsp salt, 1/2 cup milled whole flax seed, 1/2 cup oat meal, 1 cup whole wheat flour, 2 1/2 cups unbleached bread flour, (optional 1 tbsp vital gluten). Mix yeast, water, and brown sugar, together in a bowl and let set about 5 minutes until a nice foam begins on top. Add olive oil, salt, flax, and oat meal to the mix and stir. add whole wheat flour, then add the bread flour. At this point you have to abandon the spoon and start using your fingers. Keep some water and extra flour available to adjust the dough until it has nice texture and elastic ( I like to add vital gluten to keep bread from crumbling after its baked). Nead dough for 10 minutes then put in a large bowl sprayed with cooking spray. Cover with a towel and let rise in a warm place until double in size ( about 2 to 3 hours). Remove dough and nead again for 2 minutes and place in a loaf pan that’s had the bottom sprayed with cooking spray. Let rise for about an hour or until top is nice and rounded over the top of the loaf pan. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 45 minutes. Once the loaf has cooled, slice it and store in a bread box. I eat one or two slices at every meal. Note: This bread can get moldy after 4 days, but it’s so delicious, I doubt it will last that long.

  • discount jeans

    thank you for this. I just started blending my own with greens, sorrel, tomatoes green tea and everything nutritious in my kitchen. Makes a great morning meal

  • Abdul

    My PPBS levels are high as 300+ since last 3 months but I do not suffer from frequent urination, no weight loss occurred, wounds are healing surprisingly quick, no loss of appetite, no other symptoms of diabetes except dry mouth. I am not taking any tablets our insulin. what should i do at this stage?

  • Naomi

    Good day, Dr. Grege! Thanks a lot for this helpful article.
    I really think flaxseed oil is good for people with Diabetes. A lot of research
    finding prove that it’s really true that’s why I’m planning to recommend this
    to my friends and relatives who have high blood sugar. What I admire about this
    essential oil is that it’s also a good remedy for other disorders such as high
    cholesterols, hardening of arteries, sore throat, constipation, and even
    different types of cancer. And it’s also a mood enhancer as what I’ve read from
    recent findings. I’ve also learned from these articles the other benefits of
    flaxseed oils including their uses: http://oilypedia.com/?s=flaxseed+oil.

  • owlyjulia

    flax seeds when ground are really useful, great as an egg substitute in baking and good as a thickener. everyone seems to be rather polite about some of the effects of flax seed. It can make you jolly windy and make you run for the toilet. WARNING DO NOT EAT FLAX SEED BEFORE AN INTERVIEW!

  • Juie

    What about flax seed vitamins. Is it as good as taking the flax seed